BrainFilter: What is my major malfunction?
May 21, 2007 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I am a 24 year old female at a pivotal point, and I need to address some serious personality and behavioural issues before I can figure out what I want to do with my life. Where are things going wrong here?

So, a bit about me. I'm 24 y/o in relatively good health. I'm overweight, but have never had a problem with blood pressure, cholestorol, strength, flexibility, etc. I have lost about 60 pounds in the past year and most of the time feel quite well. I don't get a lot of planned exercise, but I do walk 20 minutes to work and back each day. I have had a history of hormone imbalance - never tested out of whack enough to treat, but I was started on birth control at age 14 to control my cycles, and took it off and on for almost 10 years. I am now off and my cycles are regular. I was once diagnosed with Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome though and do still notice some of the other symptoms associated with this.

From the age of 9 to 22 I struggled furiously with anxiety attacks, most often brought on in social situations. They were never treated, didn't know what they were until they started to go away. School was always easy for me, and I eventually learned how to do the least amount of work possible to get what I needed to get. I always did projects, essays and reports at the very last minute, and rarely did homework. I studied for exams the week before finals, sometimes the day of the exam. I graduated high school with an 85% average.

This system failed miserably in university, however, because I had no idea what I wanted, let alone needed, to achieve. Thus, I did no work. Actually, I passed a couple courses that were distance ed where I didn't listen to any of the lectures or read the textbook. I studied the course notes the night before and slept in the student lounge. Wrote a 60% on the exam. I drank and smoked a lot of pot in university to deal with the anxiety and ended up in a lot of debt with only half of a degree. I got involved with a married man and things ended horribly, as they tend to do.

(enter the upswing)

I move back to my home town, get a convenient job, meet some wonderful people. Job changes, move in with some friends, have a pretty good situation going on. I am happy, healthy, and involved in some wonderful, honest friendships and other relationships. Now I'm looking for the next step.

I am making enough money right now to pay my bills. I have the ability to also work from home in my spare time, but for some reason, not the motivation. I feel like I'm not sure where I'm going. Mentally, I'm struggling. I feel out of focus. I spend all my spare time repeating conversations in my head, daydreaming about conversations I want to happen (and more importantly, practicing what I will say). I have a hard time sleeping with this constant dialogue running through my head, and when I do manage to sleep deeply, I have a very difficult time waking up, mostly because I always just want to rest "a little bit longer". I write in my blog and spend a ton of time chatting to people online (mostly people that I'm sleeping with - I also seem to have a peaked libido). I do manage to get out of the house (when I'm not going to work) at least once a week, more during the summer as the weekends are always busy. Oh, and I work the midnight shift, so I sleep in the afternoons.

This isn't a self-confidence issue. I am totally comfortable with myself and who I am. I know that I am smart and if I can focus myself on something and really want it, I can do it. But I feel as if my mind gets stuck in a feedback loop. I used to spend a lot of time counting things (ceiling tiles, etc.) or counting out notes on my fingers when listening to music, being picky about making sure that my stride is the same length as the sidewalk blocks (not because of superstition, just as something to focus my attention on I think). I am "habitually ambiguous" in almost all of my day-to-day communications with people. I don't do well taking orders, mostly because I don't feel like the people giving them are worthy of my service - but someone who has a naturally dominant personality and is smart enough to understand my needs could, with the right amount of encouragement, at least motivate me to get *something* done.

I keep tossing back and forth "what I want to do". I know that I want to go back to university, but for what? Philosophy, psychology, women's studies, nursing - all things I've considered, and with my university background, all doable in 1 year part-time and 1.5 years full time. That will require me to pay off my debt (about $8,000), so that I can qualify for student loans. I currently make $12/hour working at a call center which is dull but tolerable. I know that working a couple hours a day of SOLID work from home, I could probably double my income. I was self-employed for almost 2 years, and always made *just enough* to get by, because I was only working *just enough*.

I should add that I am a fairly regular pot smoker. As with most other things in my life, I tend to binge. I will smoke a lot at once, but I also go several weeks or more without any (a couple years ago it would have been several months without any), and the behaviour is not improved. This started years before I had ever smoked a joint.

So, finally, my question. What on earth can I do to focus myself? Do I need therapy? Prescriptions? A good hard slap in the face? I am willing to entertain all suggestions here - behavioural therapy, drugs, herbs, books, meditation, getting a Chia pet, whatever just throw it out there.
posted by DecemberRaine to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
DR, sounds like you need a hug first. But secondly, I don't understand why you'd need to pay off your debt to get student loans.
posted by k8t at 10:28 AM on May 21, 2007

I would see a psychologist. They're trained to evaluate people who aren't sure what they need. S/he will be able to tell you what the next step should be, whether that's a course of therapy, medication to stabilize your mood and control your anxiety (this could be either a short-term treatment to get you to a place where you feel good enough to deal with everything else or a long-term treatment that will stabilize you permanently. You and your psychiatrist will decide that together.), something like psychological testing or "life coaching" to figure out your educational and career goals, or some combination of the above and other resources.

"A good hard slap in the face" is definitely not the answer. You're not lazy or stupid or bad. You're not at this point because you've done something wrong or because you're not working hard enough. Anyone (including that little voice inside your own head) who tells you to "just snap out of it" or "try harder" or any of that nonsense is not being helpful, and you should ignore them. Focus on getting through your day to day life and seeking professional help from people who have helped others through situations like this before. You have a lot of potential and a lot of good resources to draw from, and I think you're going to look back a year or two from now and view this time in your life as just an obstacle that you had to overcome to get to someplace really good.
posted by decathecting at 10:56 AM on May 21, 2007

As with most other things in my life, I tend to binge.

This was the one sentence that got me to write a response here, and responding to it could be the key to getting out of the cycle and into a focus on new goals. If this were my life, and I were to choose one thing to turn around, it would be the binging above all else.

I live and work in an environment where the people around me are habitual bingers - in sleep, study, food, athletics, everything - and a lot of those people hit a point where they realize the binging is limiting their successs. Some people figure out before they hit bottom, others after, how to step back and create a routine that balances all of the things they need or want in their lives. It's not about "moderation" or "routine" but rather ensuring all of your needs are met. Nothing has to be done "less," just in a different timeframe.

(My second and third steps, again, if this were me, would be increasing the planned or incidental exercise and dropping the drugs - rather than taking up new ones to simulate honest focus unless all other options fell short.)
posted by whatzit at 11:04 AM on May 21, 2007

Well, the most of the paragraph starting, 'I am making enough money right now to pay my bills,' sounds exactly like me (minus the money part). Especially repeating conversations over in your head for practice - for me, this has to do with social anxiety - I think obsessively practicing having interaction with other people is one of the hallmarks of that particular disorder/hang-up/what-have-you. I believe behavioral therapy can work quite well for social anxiety (although I haven't tried it).

About sleeping a lot, not caring to go out - anyone will tell you these are symptoms of depression, and they well could be, but to me you sound more bored with your life than anything else. Your job is dull, and you work from home, so you're not getting any stimulation from colleagues. I've tried working at home as well, but it simply won't do - I fell further and further back into myself (and yes, spent more and more time in bed). For me, a large part of overcomimg social anxiety and extreme introvertedness (ie, spending more time on the fantasy people in your head than on real things) is simply to force myself to interact with other people and to get out of the house.

My advice would be to try to figure out something you could do, work- or school-wise, that actually engages you, and don't settle for anything less - because the longer you've been in a rut, the harder to get out. Only you would know what that could be, however. I can't give advice on therapists, but you do seem like you could benefit from having someone to talk to. In the meantime, make yourself get up and go out - even just for a walk or what-have-you.

(On preview: actually, telling myself forcefully to 'snap out of it' works quite well for me in some situations when I feel my motivation is completely slipping from my grasp. YMMV, naturally.)
posted by frobozz at 11:07 AM on May 21, 2007

You sound BPD or neurotic to me. Might not hurt to seek out a therapist or doctor and talk about it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:13 PM on May 21, 2007

Is there any way that you can change your shift? I've seen similar patterns in people I know who work this shift (myself included). Swapping your body's rhythm can have profound effects on body and mind.
posted by kamikazegopher at 12:15 PM on May 21, 2007

Top things I would do RIGHT NOW.

1. Find a psychologist to talk to. Pronto.

2. Stop smoking pot. Period. Throw your stash and all the paraphanalia and dealers numbers away. Now. (It's ok at a party, but only at a party. And most people find it hard to just do it at a party-so stop doing it all together for now.)

3. Get on an anti-anxiety medicine or two-I like Lexapro type drug and Wellbutrin together. A good mix.

4. Don't go back to school until you've sorted your mental issues out a little more. Otherwise it's a waste of time.

You are depressed, have anxiety issues, and the pot is making you lazy and unmotivated do really something with yourself.
posted by aacheson at 12:15 PM on May 21, 2007

I recommend this book and the accompanying website, which have changed my life. It will address a lot of the issues you have mentioned.
posted by granted at 1:03 PM on May 21, 2007

what would you do from home? I have met, and befriended, a surprisingly large number of people (3) that have described similar troubles to me, that end up working a few days a week as a phone sex operator, and they made good money!

it's just super gross and weird sometimes
posted by Salvatorparadise at 1:37 PM on May 21, 2007

I'd say you're having some significant anxiety issues -- the constant conversations in your head, the obsessive-compulsive behaviors like counting ceiling tiles, all point to this.

The pot smoking probably isn't making the situation much better, but I'll go against the grain here and say that I don't think it's the source of your ills. If you feel you should cut back, then do so, but otherwise, I wouldn't fret over it.

I'd talk to psychiatrist. FWIW, cognitive behavioral therapy tends to work well for anxiety and has helped me. You might check out a book called Feeling Good by David Burns.

Once you start learning how to better manage your anxiety, I think the other questions about what to do with your life will become clearer. I wouldn't try to make a big shift until you do some work on your anxiety, though -- not only will you likely not be thinking as clearly as you should, the shift itself will likely cause an increase in anxiety (e.g., venturing into the unknown).
posted by treepour at 1:58 PM on May 21, 2007

You might want to research Attention Deficit Disorder. Pot smoking seems to be a motivation killer, so I'd pass it up for several months and see if that helps. 2nd treepour on the anxiety issues.

I'd see a doctor, with a list in hand of the issues presented here. Also, make sure the doc reviews any and all meds, including over-the-counter. I'd also see a therapist, with an emphasis on cognitive therapy, or other common-sense, make-my-life-work-better approach, not so much the introspective analysis approach.

And, you're doing great. Give yourself credit. Good lck.
posted by theora55 at 3:24 PM on May 21, 2007

I am not a psychologist, so I won't try to analyze everything written in the question. However, I am a long time weed aficionado and, from personal experience, I can tell you that this thing:

I feel out of focus. I spend all my spare time repeating conversations in my head, daydreaming about conversations I want to happen (and more importantly, practicing what I will say). I have a hard time sleeping with this constant dialogue running through my head

Is definitely related to this thing:
I am a fairly regular pot smoker

It could take well over 2 months of not smoking - probably closer to 6-12 months - for your thought patterns to re-coalesce. Quitting weed will also help with motivation.

Of course, everyone is different, and all appropriate disclaimers apply.

Shine on.
posted by yoz420 at 3:51 PM on May 21, 2007

I don't think you sound depressed, although you do sound a little anxious still. It sounds like you've made a lot of progress since college, and you're doing OK. Well done.

If you were an anxious person to start with, then the weed is probably not helping. Some people can smoke daily without it being a problem, but they are rare. They are also not people with anxiety problems. Weed kills motivation and increases anxiety. It would be sensible to cut it out for a few months, and see if that helps.

Diet and exercise are also good for your mental health. I've found that regular exercise makes a big difference to my state of mind. Going to the gym twice a week will really help with clarity of thought and motivation. Similarly have a look at your diet and check that it is reasonable.

Therapy is usually a good idea, and will help with the anxiety, and with working out your goals. CBT has a good reputation for dealing with this, and I've found it really helpful.

I also think it worth trying to make some small scale changes. New people, and evening class, a club of some kind, doesn't really matter what. Sometimes it is new people, new perspectives and ideas that help make these sorts of big decisions. Also making small changes will help make larger ones later.

Finally, trying to make these sorts of decisions by sitting in a chair thinking about it is not very effective. If you are thinking about nursing, find an nurse to talk to about it, ask if you can spend some time in a hospital looking at the work. A bit of research will help.

Good luck.
posted by Touchstone at 1:44 AM on May 22, 2007

I don't do well taking orders, mostly because I don't feel like the people giving them are worthy of my service - but someone who has a naturally dominant personality and is smart enough to understand my needs could, with the right amount of encouragement, at least motivate me to get *something* done.

This is more than a bit personal, so ignore it if it does not fit for you, but have you considered exploring BDSM? (put some thought into who you explore this with) This sentence just sounds like something that a person who might enjoy having a dom or master would write. Not to say that you would, but for a person who does desire that, getting their needs met can be a very positive thing in their life.

Do I need ... A good hard slap in the face?

Only if both the slapper and slappee are consenting adults.

I agree with the advice to make small changes, one of these should be to cut out the pot smoking.
posted by yohko at 11:50 AM on May 22, 2007

Nthing the pot cessation. Really.

Also, you may want to see a mental health professional re: possibly being bipolar. The constant conversations in your head, coupled with self-medicating with the pot, and the libido thing are pretty much the bipolar trifecta.

IANBP, but grew up with a family member who was - they chose to drink to self-medicate, and until they got help ( and the right meds) out had no hope of knowing the next step in their life.
posted by Carnage Asada at 10:50 AM on May 24, 2007

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